CMS prepares to roll out clear backpacks in pilot program this spring, other safety measures continue

CMS ordered 46,000 clear backpacks in November.
CMS ordered 46,000 clear backpacks in November.
Published: Mar. 9, 2022 at 7:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools are preparing to pilot clear backpacks in an effort to keep weapons out of schools.

This district announced it would be ordering clear backpacks on the heels of increased violence and guns on school campuses.

In November, the district spent nearly $442,000 for clear backpacks for high school students. 46,000 clear backpacks were purchased.

On Tuesday, Superintendent Earnest Winston said Cochrane Collegiate Academy and Hopewell High School will be the pilot for the first round of clear backs.

The Superintendent said this will give students a chance to experience and feel what the backpacks look like. The backpacks will be distributed to all high schools later this spring.

“The goal really behind taking that approach is to be able to implement at those two schools and take the learnings from that initial implementation and roll that into the overall implementation later this spring,” Winston said.

The bookbags were met with mixed reviews from parents and students. Over the last few months, both parties shared their thoughts with WBTV. Some students said they felt it won’t be efficient and that students will still try to sneak weapons onto campus.

Others believe it could deter students from bringing weapons. Other students say they felt the materials won’t be strong enough to support their textbooks and Chrome books, and many said they’re concerned the clear bags will be an invasion of privacy.

Hopewell High School is in board member Rhonda Cheek’s district.

“I think we need to do a solid pilot and make sure that it’s a benefit to it, troubleshoot, make sure we have good guidelines on it. We need to make sure that students have a safe little protective pouch in their backpack potentially for personal care items,” said District 1 Board Member Rhonda Cheek.

In November, district leaders shared there would be expected delays for the clear book bags due to supply chain issues.

Officials confirmed with WBTV that the bags were delivered in February. Officials say the timeline for the pilot program has not been shared with them yet.

Neala Kuykendall is a junior at Hopewell High School, where two guns were found on campus last semester.

With only a couple of months left in the school year, Kuykendall says it would’ve been better to get the clear backpacks on campus sooner.

“I think it’s a little bit too late, but “I do understand a bit of the timing issue it’s a hit hard to acquire so many bookbags for some many students,” Kuykendall said.

Despite this Kuykendall said she is open to using a clear backpack and encouraging her peers to do the same.

“I think that we should’ve had a better comprehensive plan and launched that with the community first and maybe taken feedback initially before we purchased a lot of things,” Cheek said.

The first gun reported on a CMS campus was August 26 at Mallard Creek High School, since then, 24 other guns were reported at several other high schools, a middle school, and an elementary school.

During the first week of school, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department held a press conference addressing fights and weapons found on campus.

District 1 Board Member Rhonda Cheek says she first heard staff discussing clear backpacks around that time frame.

“It was brought up by our chief of CMS police back like right after some of the gun incidents started happening, so at the beginning of the school year,” Cheek said.

Hopewell High School also launched a parent-run volunteer program, “Titan Dads and Moms on a Mission.” The program includes parent volunteers in an effort to prevent fights and other violence during the school day.

Hopewell High School also has a zen room to help students process their emotions.

Other safety measures include doubling the number of random safety screenings, launching the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, and adding extra body scanners.

On Tuesday, Winston said at least 60 safety screenings have been done so far this school year. He said no firearms were found during the screenings. Common items found during screenings were vape pens, tasers, and over-the-counter prescription medications.

In addition, building assessments were completed for schools to implement body scanners.

Winston says the contract for body scanners for the first phase of schools, which includes seven schools, is complete. There are also schools in Phases 2 and 3.

High Schools in Phase 1 include Harding University, Hopewell, Julius Chambers, West Charlotte, North Mecklenburg, Garinger, and Mallard Creek.

" I do think it’ll help as well, but I do worry about the efficiency of it,” Kuykendall shared. “Schools with multiple entries and exits I do wonder how the metal detectors [will work] and how many they might have to have.”

Three of the schools in Phase 1 are in Cheek’s district.

“To me, the backpacks always made sense if you have a body scanner because just like going into Panther’s stadium you have to have a clear backpack and it makes going through those body scanners before games really quick,” Cheek said.

Cheek believes the combination of clear backpacks and body scanners will be efficient.

“I think the backpacks enhance that process, so to me that was more of a tag team on those two items versus both of those being stand alone.”

Winston says they plan to receive the body scanners during spring break which is in mid-April.

The State denied the district’s request to use American Rescue Plan funds for the scanners. The scanners will be funded through capital outlay funds which are generated from things such as cell tower leases. In addition, the district will use payment from easements.

“The vendor will train our staff members as well as install those body scanners for us,” Winston said.

The district also launched the “Say Something” anonymous reporting system in February in middle and high schools.

Winston says more than 500 tips were submitted between different middle and high schools.

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